“Truth is the first casualty of war.” — Senator Hiram Johnson
Politicians are calling for war because ISIS has supposedly beheaded journalists. We’ve been down this road before. So let’s review…
- The history of atrocity stories as a justification for war
- The consequences of the wars that were caused by those atrocity stories
As you read the review of each war below, ask yourself…
- Did politicians lie to manipulate our emotions to trick us into war?
- Did the war protect our freedom, or the freedoms others?
- Did the war make the world better or worse?.
Here’s what I honestly think…
By the time you finish reading you will never look at war, politicians, or American history in the same way again. And you will start to cringe every time you hear someone claim that our way of life has been preserved by past military actions. You will see that the reverse is actually the case.
From this review of history, you can develop and teach important heuristics. A heuristic — pronounced hyu-RIS-tic — is a rule-of-thumb that leads to quick accurate decisions. In this case the heuristics are…
- Politicians lie
- Most (all?) wars have been founded on lies
- Wars rarely achieve good results
- The negative results of war almost always dwarf their alleged benefits
So let’s get started…
Iraq War 2
In 2003 Politicians claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of Mass Destruction that he had used against his own people. We now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction (http://truthaboutwar.com/claim1.shtml). Even worse, the chemical weapons Hussein HAD used against his own people had been given to him by the United States. (http://dailym.ai/1xIknoE)
Iraq War 1
In 1990 politicians claimed that Saddam Hussein’s troops had killed babies in incubators when they invaded Kuwait. They also claimed that Hussein was planning the conquest of Saudi Arabia. We now know that the baby killing stories were faked (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR4cgeJJPqg ), as were the satellite photos showing Iraqi troops on the Saudi border. (http://truthaboutwar.com/claim5.shtml)
The Cold War With Iran
In 1980, politicians claimed that the Iranian seizure of the U.S. embassy was completely unprovoked. We’ve been in a cold war with Iran ever since. But more Americans are coming to understand that the Iranian revolutionaries feared a repeat of 1953, when the CIA deposed a democratic government in favor of the dictatorial Shah. That 1953 coup was orchestrated from the U.S. embassy, which explains why the revolutionaries seized the embassy in 1980. (http://bit.ly/1itqiGT)
Politicians got us into Vietnam by claiming that North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. But we now know that those incidents were faked and/or exaggerated in order to manipulate Americans into supporting the war that followed. (http://bit.ly/1fRM5Gk)
The politicians appear to have gotten it right in Korea. After all, the Communist North invaded the peaceful South. But it’s important to remember that U.S. politicians invited Stalin into Korea to fight the Japanese during World War 2. If not for that strategic blunder there never would have been a Communist North Korea, or a Korean War. (http://bit.ly/1nL9MQc)
World War 2
FDR claimed that the attack on Pearl Harbor was completely unprovoked. But we now understand that the attack came in response to an oil embargo that threatened to strangle Japan (http://bit.ly/WInTOD). We also know that FDR was intentionally sending U.S. airplanes to China and ships into Japanese waters, hoping to provoke a war (http://amzn.to/1wfU0lC). He got his wish. Perhaps you’re glad he did, but consider…
Our participation in World War 2 was not as wonderful as legend claims. By the time our troops landed at Normandy the Soviet Union was already defeating Germany. Our involvement did little to affect that outcome (http://amzn.to/1oslqQ1)
While our presence probably did save Italy, West Germany, and France from falling to Stalin, and those are very good things, there were also negative outcomes…
- We surrendered Eastern Europe to Soviet domination
- We invited Stalin into Korea
- We paved the way for Mao in China
Was our involvement in World War 2 really all that great? More importantly, would World War 2 have even happened had we NOT intervened in…
World War 1
U.S. politicians claimed that we needed to fight the Germans because their submarines were sinking our commercial ships. American lives lost aboard the Lusitania were symbolic of this. But here’s the truth…
We were cooperating with a British blockade of Germany in violation of our alleged neutral status (http://bit.ly/1oslD5V). The Germans had no choice but to sink our ships. Even the British now admit that they would have done the same thing had they been in Germany’s position. As for the Lusitania…
It was carrying munitions in violation of international law. The British did this purposely, to make the Lusitania a target. They actually hoped the Germans would sink it, and that the loss of American lives would bring the U.S. into the war on the British side. The British even maneuvered the Lusitania into waters where the risk of attack was greater. They also created fraudulent medals to made it look like the German government was celebrating the loss of innocent American lives. But in reality…
The Germans had run ads in New York papers warning Americans to NOT travel on the Lusitania, because it was a military target. The Germans were actually the better actors in this story. (http://bit.ly/ZgJnUA)
You see, it isn’t only American politicians who lie and manipulate citizens into evil wars. All politicians do it. This is the nature of the political class, in all countries, at all times. It was even true at the very start of World War 1, when politicians promoted fraudulent stories about German soldiers bayoneting Belgian babies through the head. (http://bit.ly/1BrYyYZ) (Please notice how much politicians love atrocity stories involving babies and/or head wounds, the better to enrage you).
So what did our intervention in World War 1 do for the world? First, we paid the new Russian government to stay in the fight (http://amzn.to/1qES7hY). This created the conditions and the time needed for the Bolshevik revolution that created the Soviet Union.
Second, we turned a stalemate into a German defeat with a harsh peace treaty. This created some of the conditions that led to Hitler. In other words…
Our intervention paved the way for Stalin, Hitler, World War 2, and the Cold War. And all of these bad outcomes were based on political lies designed to manipulate American emotions. But sadly, this kind of thing already had a long history in our country…
The Spanish-American War
Politicians also told atrocity stories about how the Spanish were treating Cuban rebels in the 1890s. Some of these stories were likely true, but they weren’t enough to start a war, so President McKinley did something that FDR and LBJ would emulate decades later — he sent a ship into harm’s way. In this case the ship was the U.S. Battleship Maine, and the place was Havana Harbor, Cuba.
The Maine blew up. Politicians and the media claimed the Spanish were responsible and war soon followed. Several decades later the U.S. Navy studied the matter closely and concluded that the explosion was an accident. (http://bit.ly/1sjarxp)
But the truth came too late to save lives and prevent the U.S. from soiling itself by conquering colonial territories.
We Americans like to tell ourselves that we have never waged wars of conquest, but even that isn’t true. In fact, conquest was the real reason for the Spanish War (http://amzn.to/1uvQLX5). Instead of liberating Spanish colonies, we turned them into U.S. colonies. A murderous war was required to achieve this in the Philippines, where the locals resisted our rule. More than 50,000 Filipinos were murdered by U.S. soldiers (http://bit.ly/ZgL4S1) . The Japanese later used our example as a justification for trying to conquer their own empire during World War 2 (http://amzn.to/1AykQpN). But even this wasn’t the first time our politicians had lied to justify war and conquest…
The Mexican War
Politicians claimed that Mexicans were invading U.S. soil to kill Americans. President Polk used this claim as a justification to invade Mexico and conquer the territories that now make-up the Western United States. Congressman Abraham Lincoln didn’t believe the atrocity stories, and challenged them in Congress. He wanted President Polk to identify the precise spot on which American blood had been shed. “Spotty Lincoln”lost his seat because of this honest and courageous stand. (http://bit.ly/1rWdZaQ)
But even this early example was NOT the beginning of political lies designed to justify war and conquest.
The War of 1812
We learn in school that this war was fought to protest British impressment of Irish-American sailors on the high sea. But do you really fight vast wars for such a small provocation? In truth, U.S. politicians were hoping that this war would help them to conquer Canada ( http://bit.ly/1qEYBNZ ). Instead, we lost almost every battle and had our Capitol burned.
Bringing it back to the present…
There you have it. Every war has been based on lies, and most have achieved bad ends. So…
Should you really believe the current case for war? Are the beheading videos even real? They don’t look very real, and it’s easy to think of people with a motivation to fake them. For instance, all of the following want us to fight ISIS…
- President Assad of Syria
- The Kurds in Iraq
- The Iranian government
- The Iraqi government
- The Israeli government
It’s even remotely possible that some shadowy Neocon group in the CIA could have played some role in the production of these videos. Conversely, it’s hard to imagine why ISIS would want to risk military attack by a superpower. So there’s more than a little reason to doubt the veracity of these videos. Do you really want to blindly trust yet another atrocity story? More importantly…
Do you really want to count on a good outcome from a war with ISIS? Why should the next war be any better than all the previous wars, which have been so uniformly disastrous?
Maybe the real thing to do, for those who insist on doing something, is to prohibit our politicians from making overseas enemies for us. It’s up to you — will you learn from history, or repeat it?
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Co-creators, the Zero Aggression Project
Mr. Willis: Thanks for the summary perspective. You are right on the mark, but a lot of this would be a very hard sell to American “patriots.” Like most Americans I love America too, but we need to assiduously avoid even the temptation to enter conflicts. “Truth is the first casualty of [politics!]” War and politics belong to the same category: conflict. Robert Kier
Hi Robert. I completely agree. Politics is simply war by other means, and both war and politics are bad for people. You’re also right that it will be hard to say. All the more reason to start today and be vigorous about it. Thanks for your comment.
I would like to start by apologizing for my reply because I am sure it is not what you want to hear. Anyone who uses your response when speaking of the be-headings will be laughed out of the room. It is not a practical response. During discussions, to offer a suggestion that the be-headings may have been faked would be appropriate but what if they are real? We need a response that not only follows your zero aggression principle but also helps people sleep at night without fear that the US will be unable to defend herself against ISIS aggression once we have adopted the zero aggression plan.
I was hoping for a real response which follows your zero aggression principles, such as, the community focus of which you spoke. Members of ISIS are their own community and as such are free to live as their moral conscience dictates. If ISIS steps outside their own community and tries to coerce others to live against their moral conscience, then the community rules which are in place need to be sufficient to protect the people from this coercion.
There will be aggressors. By human nature people live according to a pecking order. Are community rules enough to stop would-be aggressors bent on world domination? What if ISIS chose the weakest community and took it over? Would other communities rush in to help?
I’m not sold on this point. I need a better response because people who coerce others through violence are not going to be content to live in their own community.
Hi Julie. Thanks for your criticism. Sorry for the delay in moderating it. Not intentional. Just slipped through the cracks.
We agree that it is appropriate to defend against aggression by ISIS. The real question is who should do the defending. We think the people in the area should do it, NOT U.S. politicians.
We provided the history we did in the article to demonstrate what a terrible job our politicians have done with this sort of thing. Did you read the whole article? The case is pretty overwhelming in my view. Even worse…
Our military establishment seems to have played a role in forming ISIS. We certainly created the conditions for their rise with our stupid invasion of Iraq. But there’s also evidence that we have given key ISIS figures training and weapons. How many of these kinds of mistakes do we need to make before we finally STOP.
OK, perhaps you still disagree. Perhaps you think our military should still be involved in this, despite all the evidence of bad results from previous such interventions. What about Americans who disagree with you? Should they be forced to fund your preferred answer despite their intense disagreement? This is why we argue for voluntary funding for every institution of governance. That way, if you want to fund an effort against ISIS you can, while those of us who see it as folly can decline.
Thanks again for your comments.
Where is my reply to the beheading blog post? Does it take this long to moderate?I don’t believe I broke any of your posting rules. We need to have a discussion, an open dialog, but if my posts are not “approved” because I differ from you and asked hard questions then you will lose me for one and all the people I influence. I believe you are behaving badly if you think censoring this conversation will help your cause.
Sorry for the delay. Just an oversight. I have now responded.
You have most of your facts correct. I majored in political science at UC Davis and did mostly independent study. I could read all the Congressional records and research every nook and cranny my curiosity led me into. I could express my views freely, not being bound to assigned readings by the professor, etc.
In each incident you discuss your facts are flawless except for one thing. Overly broad generalities are red flags of incomplete research or biased view point. In every instance you discuss there were very brave politicians/statesmen and women who stood up loudly and powerfully against the atrocities. In each instance they were dealt with by the majority – even in America. It is to the protection of these heroes that I stand and object to your overly broad generalizations about “all politicians, all countries, all times”.
This is the tactic of emotional inflammation that causes democratic/republican and “for the people” governments and politicians to be sadly thrown out, leaving in power the morally bankrupt and barbaric (no relation to baric) politicians who inhabit our political scene today.
It is the complacency of the broad public – the inability to discern truth from a barrage of data – that gives us the wars. No matter how many politicians you put up against a wall, it is repeatedly the complacency of the citizens themselves and their cowardliness in standing up for right in emotional situations such as the Vietnam war – hanging senator Moss from Oregon and a few other Congressmen out to dry – that left us with the seedier majority that we have watch parade through the halls of Congress ever since then.
There is no common denominator amongst elected politicians than that the are people who meet qualifications (omitted in Obama’s case – go to Hawaii and check around with the residents there.) and win an election.
Don’t shoot down our heroes and comrades in arms in these matters to solve the problem that they were a minority of votes. Yes, this is a war. It is taking place in our country with ballots and a few bullets and other “accidents” that happen to good people. Good people have to be willing to take out the bad guys, but clearly identify them first by their actions in correspondence to their words. That disparity tells the true story. Just line that up to evaluate anyone and you will have a valuable tool with which to evaluate them honestly – as you would want to be evaluated. Remember – the enemy is evaluating you too.
Hi Robert. Thanks for your criticism. If I understand it correctly your objection is two-fold…
1. I blame these problems on ALL politicians, when in fact there were some good ones who resisted.
2. I exempt the people from blame, for supporting the bad politicians.
I think these are fair criticisms. It can be difficult when trying to compress a lot of information into a tight space, to deal with such nuances. I’m sure there are other, similar nuances that I also failed to discuss. So having said…
This article will be updated and edited from time-to-time. The next time I do that I will try to address your criticism with a few, short, textual changes. In the meantime your comment can serve to remind readers of your points. Thanks for taking the time to read the article and share your thoughts.
If you keep letting both pros and cons post you surely will have my support. I was in the US Army as a combat medic in Iraq, and even if the gas is considered a weapon of mass destruction, I feel that our invasion there was unjustified. I was proud to serve and to feel that I was defending against terrorism. But the more I thought about it the more I wondered how our invasion was supported by the Constitution. That country was certainly no military threat to the US. They may have been some sort of economic threat or some embarrassment to the Bush family. But neither was a constitutional reason for invasion (Kinda makes me think of our support for the invasion of Libya as a NATO member. What was that really all about? And why are we in these unholy marriages that we call treaties? Perhaps it would be most honorable to get a divorce!). Did the Iraqis have any direct connection to the Twin Tower attack? No. Yet, as I understand it, a major country that supported the attack monetarily and had citizens in the attack goes without punishment. So, how then, by invading Iraq, did I defend against terrorism? That is the $64,000 question. I think people, just as I was, were moved by news stories and the junk logic of attaching Iraq to terrorism. So we become brave and we sign up for war. But then our head clears… And now what do we have that we did not have then? Apparently we now have terrorism in Iraq!
Hi Terry. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and personal experience.